Author Archives: Rachel Ruhlen

Regional Bicycle & Pedestrian Advisory Committee is accepting applications!

The Regional Bicycle & Pedestrian Advisory Committee, formerly the Bicycle Advisory Committee, is now accepting applications for membership. The purpose of the Regional Bicycle & Pedestrian Advisory Committee, a subcommittee of the Roanoke Valley Transportation Planning Organization (RVTPO) Transportation Technical Committee (TTC), is to facilitate regional collaboration with diverse stakeholders in planning bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure in the Roanoke Valley.

Committee work includes walking and bicycling around the Valley!

Planners and Engineers Ride

Engineer-guided tour of the Garden City Greenway

The draft Public Participation Plan is in a library near you

To make the draft Public Participation Plan more accessible, we distributed copies to 14 libraries in the urbanized Roanoke Valley. Planner Rachel Ruhlen drove 100 miles to deliver copies to eight of the libraries, as far out as Fincastle, Blue Ridge, Glenvale, and South County. She biked another 10 miles to deliver copies to six of the libraries in the City. The libraries have a delivery service that can be used for distributing copies for public comment, but Ms. Ruhlen enjoyed visiting corners of the region she’d never seen before, meeting librarians, and seeing the draft Public Participation Plan in libraries. You can view and comment on the plan online – or go to the nearest library!

Roanoke Valley libraries in the urbanized area

The Roanoke Valley libraries in the urbanized area are:

  • Vinton (Roanoke County)
  • Fincastle (Botetourt)
  • Blue Ridge (Botetourt)
  • Hollins (Roanoke County)
  • Williamson Road (Roanoke City)
  • Salem
  • Glenvar (Roanoke County)
  • South County (Roanoke County)
  • Mount Pleasant (Roanoke County)
  • Jackson Park (Roanoke City)
  • Raleigh Court (Roanoke City)
  • Melrose (Roanoke City)
  • Gainsboro (Roanoke City)
  • Main (Roanoke City)

Seeking public input on how we get public input!

The 2016 Federal Certification Review of the Roanoke Valley Transportation Planning Organization (RVTPO) identified the 2007 Public Participation Plan as out of date and recommended developing a new plan. An ad-hoc committee representing diverse transportation issues developed a new Public Participation Plan. The public comment period will be open until Monday, February 19, 2018. A public hearing will be held at the RVTPO Policy Board meeting on Thursday, February 25, 2018.

Please review the draft: Draft Public Participation Plan 2017 12 14. Don’t have time to read a long document? No worries – focus on pages 15 – 31. Thank you!

You may also provide feedback by:

  • Email rruhlen@rvarc.org
  • Call Rachel at (540) 343-4417
  • Stop by our offices at 313 Luck Ave SW, Roanoke VA 24016.

Workshop on Performance Measurement of Transportation to Promote Economic Vitality

Workshop attendees discuss economic development and transportation

“We don’t have transportation for the sake of transportation,” Eric Sundquist from Transportation for America (T4America, a program of Smart Growth America) told workshop attendees. “Transportation helps us achieve other goals,” such as getting to a job or moving freight. The link between transportation and the regional economy is strong, but their relationship is changing.

Chris Zimmerman, Vice President for Economic Development Smart Growth America, described this and how investments in transportation help economic growth. In the past decades, economic development was often cheap land near a highway. Mr. Zimmerman explained that the return on investment of that model is declining, and today’s successful economic development efforts will focus on walkability and infill development to attract high wage workers and their employers.

The Roanoke Valley Transportation Planning Organization (RVTPO) recently received a technical assistance grant from T4America to incorporate performance measures into transportation planning. At the same time, the RVTPO hired Economic Development Research Group, Inc. (EDR) to identify 5-10 transportation projects that will promote regional economic development. The Regional Study on Transportation Project Prioritization for Economic Development and Growth steering committee directs both efforts.

T4America, EDR, and the RVTPO invited members of the steering committee, the RVTPO Policy Board, the RVTPO Transportation Technical Committee, and other business and economic development stakeholders to a workshop at the Green Ridge Recreation Center on November 29. Over 40 participants discussed:

  • What makes a good transportation performance measure to assess progress toward economic development goals
  • How to use performance measures to select projects, such as in VDOT’s Smart Scale funding process
  • What a transportation need is

View the presentations here.

T4America and EDR will return in 2018 to follow up with a second workshop.

Bike to Work Day!

The Regional Commission Bike Room recently got a facelift. A cleanup and a little paint transformed it from a dank and scary closet into a bright and spacious room. The six (of thirteen) employees who sometimes bike celebrated the improved Bike Room by all biking on the same day! Before the renovation, this would have been a problem– the Bike Room didn’t hold six bicycles.

Before work began, the bike room shared space with janitorial and other supplies.

RIDE Solutions staff Tim and Jeremy painted and laid tile. Renovation cost: $0! They selected paint and tiles from what they had on hand.

The maximum capacity before renovation was 4 bikes. The capacity after is 6 bikes and room to spare!

The parking lot is normally full, unless we’re all at a meeting. Today is was empty– but we were all here!

All 6 bikes in 1 parking space

Each bike in its own parking space

How do you get your baby to the WIC office up the hill?

A steep hill to push a stroller on a hot day

“The bus doesn’t stop in front of the WIC office in the Northwest. Mothers have to walk two blocks to get there with babies and toddlers.”

This comment was a response to a survey question about long range transportation planning. The Northwest WIC clinic is at the First Church of the Brethren on Carroll Ave NW on top of the ridge. The nearest bus stop is only a quarter-mile away, but no one wants to push a stroller up that steep and treeless climb.

Betty at the WIC clinic gets off the bus four blocks away to avoid the arduous hill. The WIC clinic sees fewer clients than expected because of the hill. Mothers arrive hot and sweaty and asking for water.

The Public Participation Plan ad-hoc committee, tasked with developing a new public participation plan for the Roanoke Valley Transportation Planning Organization, reviewed the survey responses. After we read that comment, a member observed, “A mother trying to get her baby to the WIC office isn’t interested in a 20-year transportation plan.”

Does your long-range transportation vision include easy access to the WIC office for everyone? How would you solve this problem? What other problems would your solutions introduce?

Solution Feasibility issues Introduced problems
Reroute the bus   Affects the rest of the route
Move the WIC office Inferior office space, cost  
Run a van to the bus stop Expensive insurance, child seats, staff time  
Call Uber for the last block Expensive at $7.70, and no child seats Introduce traffic congestion
Automated vehicles Don’t exist yet Introduce traffic congestion

 

Over the past decades, the region and the nation has done an excellent job of making it easy for most people to get anywhere. The Roanoke Valley has lots of cars, lots of roads, and lots of parking places. Roanoke’s collective mobility is better than ever.

In making it so easy for most people to get everywhere, it’s become very difficult for some people to get anywhere. Over 13% of the Roanoke City households don’t have a car, but nearly all destinations can only be accessed by a car. More than 1 in every 10 people are virtually excluded from daily life: having a job, shopping, visiting the doctor, or going to church, just so that the other 9 of us can do all these things so easily.

This situation has been decades in the making, and will not change overnight. The long-range transportation plan, updated every 5 years, is about getting the balance right, keeping it easy for most people to get most places without putting a great transportation burden on the most disadvantaged.

APA Virginia Chapter Annual Conference

RVARC staff were delighted to participate in APA Virginia Chapter’s annual statewide conference here in Roanoke this week. Staff coordinated the Local Food Mobile Tour in conjunction with City of Roanoke, Virginia – Government staff. This tour showcased the West End neighborhood revitalization efforts. Special thanks to LEAP for Local FoodRoanoke Community Garden Association, Freedom First Credit Union and Carilion, among other speakers!

Fresh produce on the Local Food Mobile Tour

Staff assisted RIDE Solutions with the “Where the Sidewalk Ends” mobile tour and scavenger hunt. Participants competed to complete tasks in three regions– Downtown, Crystal Springs, and The Towers– with limited transportation resources.

“Where the sidewalk ends” scavenger hunt required participants to navigate obstructions.

What do YOU think about public participation?

Staff listen and talk to visitors at the Regional Commission Open House

Tell us what you think about public participation in transportation planning.

The following names are changed, but based on real people.

Keith drives by himself to work every day. His commute used to be an easy 15 minutes but now takes twice that or more because of congestion.

Michelle is disabled. She rides the bus to the grocery store, and schedules paratransit to the doctor. She would like to get a job at the mall, but the bus doesn’t run that late.

Carrie has a salon in a little commercial area. The truck carrying her order of hair product couldn’t get through the construction detour last week. Her customers are ordering it online instead—and she’s losing profits.

Jeff got rid of his car after one too many traffic tickets. He walks or bikes everywhere, occasionally calling Uber. Visiting his parents on the other side of the steepest hill in town is not easy!

Sarah is a Millennial who hasn’t learned to drive or ride a bicycle. Uber eats up a lot of her part-time, minimum wage job. She’s scared to walk the 1 mile or to try the bus.

Transportation is complex. Expert traffic engineers and planners are essential, but that’s not enough to design a good transportation system. A good transportation system requires YOU. Planners and engineers have training and expertise, but YOU help provide the comprehensive perspective of the entire community.

The Roanoke Valley Transportation Planning Organization’s (RVTPO) Public Participation Plan is being updated, and the committee developing the new plan drafted the plan’s purpose and goals.

Why does the RVTPO want public participation?

What is important about public participation?

Share your thoughts! Take this short survey, and encourage your friends and colleagues to take the survey too!

Garden City Greenway

The first time I saw the Garden City Greenway I stopped and stared. It is one of the most unusual multiuse trails I’ve ever seen. The alternating white concrete and black asphalt brings to mind a chess board. I thought the contrast was to draw attention to the many driveways that cross the greenway. I invited Priscilla Cygielnik to chat about the unusual greenway she designed with the Pedestrian & Bicycle Advisory Committee.

The Garden City Greenway was initiated through a Safe Routes to School grant and completed with local and state revenue sharing funds. Therefore, its purpose is to provide a way for kids to walk and bike to school. Priscilla had many constraints when designing the trail. It was built as much as possible within the existing right-of-way of the Garden City Blvd. That makes it different from most greenways, which do not follow a road. Most greenways in Roanoke follow waterways: the Roanoke River Greenway, the Tinker Creek Greenway, and the Lick Run Greenway.

To keep it within the right-of-way of the road, it is mostly 8 feet wide, which is the minimum width for a two-way multiuse path. Bicyclists are more comfortable with 10 or 12 feet. For context, modern sidewalks are 5 feet, and most roads are at least 28 feet.

The narrowness and its location within the road’s right-of-way make it feel more like a glorified sidewalk than a bike path. But don’t take that as a criticism. Keep in mind the purpose of providing a way for kids to walk and bike to school. It serves that function very well. Other greenways have a more recreational purpose. The Garden City Greenway is not a great recreational greenway.

Even keeping it as much as possible within the road’s right-of-way, they still had to acquire some additional right-of-way. Acquiring right-of-way is the greatest expense and obstacle of most trails. In the original design, a portion of the greenway fronting one property would shrink to 5 feet because the landowner absolutely refused to sell or give up any land. However, during construction he approved of the improvements being made and agreed to sell the additional 3 feet necessary to make the improvement in front of his property.

Priscilla pointed out the driveway improvements have to do with the steep slopes downhill of the existing road.  To be able to navigate a vehicle in and out of a driveway, the entrances were specially designed to ensure proper drainage but reduce the pitch typical of standard entrances. Luckily, it was pouring rain as we walked, so we could see the drainage improvements in action.

Another landowner, this one a business, strongly opposed the project. He conceded the right-of-way needed but negotiated for having his parking lot repaved. But after the greenway was built, he called Priscilla. “I didn’t think this greenway was any good,” he told her, “but it turned out really nice.” He has new customers who walk and bike to his store.

The greatest weakness of this project, in my opinion, is the number of driveways that cross the greenway. I’ve heard more than one kid describe an experience someone backing out of their driveway hit the kid walking, biking, or roller skating down the sidewalk. Regardless of whose fault you think that is, we can reduce these incidents by reducing the potential conflicts. Priscilla said the contrasting concrete & asphalt that caught my eye was coincidence, but it is does draw attention to the driveways.

The location of the school on a busy road with lots of driveways was a decision made long ago when engineers, developers, and planners were only building for cars. Retrofitting our autocentric world to accommodate other types of travel is a long and expensive process. Many projects, like the Garden City Greenway, will just have to do the best they can, fixing the problems we can fix and living with the problems we can’t fix yet.

 

RIDE Solutions, Zagster, and Local Sponsors Debut Bike Share System

Roanoke’s new bike share debuted May 24th with a kickoff ceremony at Norfolk Southern Plaza, made possible by RIDE Solutions, Zagster, and a host of generous sponsors. The bike share program bolsters Roanoke’s overall transportation network, solves for last-mile trips, and makes Roanoke a healthier, more sustainable, and more bike-friendly community. Zagster spokesperson Keli Hoyt-Rupert said their users in other cities cite bike share as making possible access to parks and recreation opportunities they didn’t have previously.

Notable participants in the event included:

* RIDE Solutions Director Jeremy Holmes
* Roanoke City Councilman Dr. David Trinkle
* Aaron Garland and John Garland, Garland Properties
* Zagster Account Manager Keli Hoyt-Rupert

Bike sharing, long considered exclusively a big-city amenity, is now possible in smaller communities thanks to a novel model pioneered by Zagster. Unlike big-city systems, in which riders must drop off bikes at designated stations for every stop, the built-in lock on every Zagster bike gives users the freedom to ride as long as they want, wherever they want. This hybrid model, which blends dockless locking for mid-trip stops with fixed station locations for beginning and ending rides, allows users to plan their trips around their destinations – and not around station locations. As a result, the bike share promises to not only ease commutes, but to also unlock vast recreational opportunities for exercise and fun.